Multiple retrograde substructures in the Galactic halo: A shattered view of Galactic history

Helmer H. Koppelman, Amina Helmi, Davide Massari, Adrian M. Price-Whelan, Tjitske K. Starkenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


Aims. Several kinematic and chemical substructures have been recently found amongst Milky Way halo stars with retrograde motions. It is currently unclear how these various structures are related to each other. This Letter aims to shed light on this issue. Methods. We explore the retrograde halo with an augmented version of the Gaia DR2 RVS sample, extended with data from three large spectroscopic surveys, namely RAVE, APOGEE, and LAMOST. In this dataset, we identify several structures using the HDBSCAN clustering algorithm. We discuss their properties and possible links using all the available chemical and dynamical information. Results. In concordance with previous work, we find that stars with [Fe/H] < -1 have more retrograde motions than those with [Fe/H] > -1. The retrograde halo contains a mixture of debris from objects like Gaia-Enceladus, Sequoia, and even the chemically defined thick disc. We find that the Sequoia has a smaller range in orbital energies than previously suggested and is confined to high energy. Sequoia could be a small galaxy in itself, but since it overlaps both in integrals-of-motion space and chemical abundance space with the less bound debris of Gaia-Enceladus, its nature cannot yet be fully settled. In the low-energy part of the halo, we find evidence for at least one more distinct structure: Thamnos. Stars in Thamnos are on low-inclination, mildly eccentric retrograde orbits, moving at vφ ≈ -150 km s-1, and are chemically distinct from the other structures. Conclusions. Even with the excellent Gaia DR2 data, piecing together all the fragments found in the retrograde halo remains challenging. At this point, we are very much in need of large datasets with high-quality high-resolution spectra and tailored high-resolution hydrodynamical simulations of galaxy mergers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL9
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Galaxy: evolution
  • Galaxy: formation
  • Galaxy: halo
  • Galaxy: kinematics and dynamics
  • Solar neighborhood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Multiple retrograde substructures in the Galactic halo: A shattered view of Galactic history'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this